The Shiite Coalition and Obama’s Impotence

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar, is president of the International American Council and serves on the board of the Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a senior fellow at the Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington, DC and is a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. He can be reached at rafizadeh@fas.harvard.edu. Follow Dr. Rafizadeh at @majidrafizadeh.


2349077637The hesitant, premature, indecisive, inconsistent, and uninformed foreign policy initiatives of President Barack Obama on the Assad regime are working towards undermining American credibility, power, prestige, and legitimacy in the international community and the Middle East. From the perspective of Russian and Chinese leaders, the Obama administration has projected a crucially weak geopolitical position.  These undetermined and ambiguous foreign policy moves toward the Middle East and Syria are significantly contributing to emboldening the Shiite-Islamist coalition of Iranian clerics, Ayatollahs, Hezbollah, and Assad’s regime.

Firstly, President Obama has not yet articulated a concrete foreign policy plan for Syria as the conflict enters its third year, with the Islamists beginning to emerge as the more coordinated, and organized, battlefield winners.  For the first 15 months of the Syrian uprising, the Obama administration preferred to act as a bystander, merely reacting as events unfolded in Syria while Russia, Iran, China, and Hezbollah led. Afterwards, when regional and international pressures to act began to pile up— and when American legitimacy and values were questioned—the Obama administration issued a red line for the use of chemical weapons.  More precisely, Obama stated, “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus… That would change my equation… We’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans.”

A central principle of international affairs— directly linked to credibility, legitimacy, and the global image of a state— is warning, issuing a red line, declaring an ultimatum, and delivering definitive statements to the international community or other states. Geopolitical and geostrategic foreign policies of ruling nations generally indicate that a state should not warn other states of serious repercussions, unless it fully intends to implement its demanded policies if the drawn red line is crossed.

After President Barack Obama issued his warning, 13 reports on the use of chemical weapons came out from Israeli, French, and British intelligence. Due to the fact that the Obama administration did not have any particular foreign policy plan towards Syria from the beginning, the administration first began by dodging questions related to these reports. In addition, the administration’s argument for not following up on its own political warning focused on several notions: pointing out that they were not cognizant of who indeed used the chemical weapons, where the weapons were precisely utilized, and whether the rebels were in possession of the chemical weapons or the Assad regime. The Obama administration then changed positions, stating that chemical weapons where used in “varying degrees,” which would not qualify as crossing the red line. Apparently, the red line meant using chemical weapons in large amounts.

Nevertheless, after Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders)—a credible international organization— presented a report on the use of chemical weapons, the Obama administration was further pushed to address the red line that was issued almost over a year ago.

While there were no specific foreign policy goals on the Syrian issue, President Obama warned that America would conduct limited military strikes. Geopolitically and geostrategically speaking, what was the purpose of such policy? There does not seem to have been any sort of national security plan that this military operation would have accomplished. This strike would not even have worked towards fundamentally altering the balance of power on the ground in Syria. Besides spending millions of dollars, the objectives of such military strikes are not at all clear. It would be difficult to refer to any definite geopolitical, national, and economic interests that these limited military strikes would bring about. Additionally, the overwhelming majority of UN member states and European countries have opposed it.

As the Obama administration saw the reactions from other ally states towards its ambiguous and “wait and see” foreign policy plan, President Obama attempted to defer the case to the Congress and avoid responsibility for two reasons. Primarily, this move was intended to throw blame on Congress in case of another catastrophic event occurring in Syria and in the region. Second, by deferring the case to Congress, President Obama could project the picture that he is not taking unilateral military action, but rather seeking congressional authorization as a fundamental part of the democratic system. As a result, President Obama will seek credit for himself in both these scenarios, being a political winner in any case.

Finally, the indeterminate and indecisive foreign policies of the Obama administration have fundamentally contributed to emboldening the Shiite coalition of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hezbollah, and the Assad regime. As President Obama keeps issuing red lines and changing his rhetoric, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hezbollah, and Assad’s regime have received a clear and formidable message about the Obama administration’s weak position. This has also contributed to damaging America’s global image and diplomatic prestige.

These countries and non-state actors— supported by Moscow and Beijing— have been empowered to the extent that their lawmakers and leaders are explicitly undermining the U.S., threatening it and its ally Israel.

For example, according to Hussein Sheikholeslam, the director general of the Iranian parliament’s International Affairs bureau and a senior Iranian lawmaker, the United States would not dare attack Syria, but if it does, “the Zionist regime will be the first victim.” On Monday, Sheikholeslam was quoted on Iran’s state-run Fars News Agency saying: “No military attack will be waged against Syria… Yet, if such an incident takes place, which is impossible, the Zionist regime will be the first victim of a military attack on Syria.” Contrastingly, Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the commander of the Republican Guards’ elite Basij paramilitary force, shrugged off any potential Western military response, stating that “[the Americans] are incapable of starting a new war in the region, because of their lacking economic capabilities and their lack of morale.”

More fundamentally, Iranian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi solidified Iran’s stance under Hassan Rowhani’s presidency by emphasizing that Iran is resolved and determined to defend Syria and Assad’s apparatuses. Araghchi stated in a news conference in Tehran: “We want to strongly warn against any military attack in Syria. There will definitely be perilous consequences for the region,” adding, “these complications and consequences will not be restricted to Syria. It will engulf the whole region.”

Considering international politics, the lack of a clear foreign policy agenda and issuing an ambiguous and vague red line, are more detrimental to national security and global geopolitical status than implementing many other, more real and physical, foreign policy gaffs.

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  • Aizino Smith

    We probably have the military might to go into Syria, kick @ss take names and even country build.

    But we do not have the political will or political capital. I blame that squarely on liberals, progressives or whatever name they are hiding behind.

    They spent 2003 to 2008 to impugn, lie (‘Bush lied and people died”), propagandize (complicit media and their body count project). They also demoralized people. When the b__t/rd Harry Reid crowed “the war is lost”, it demoralized me for a time and I was one of those who had to go. I got there and it wasn’t so bad. Analytically I saw the situation improved. But I did not get that from the f/ckers that run ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC. There were in cahoots with Senator Reid. I don’t think I am atypical.

    As penance for the wrongs they have done, If liberals cannot get to a S & M shop to buy a whip to flagellate themselves, they should do something with pills or wrists.

    • Biff Henderson

      Muslims want a nation built upon the principles of the Sharia. Whatever is rebuilt will hate any government that isn’t Sharia compliant. Why waste American lives and treasure on a losing proposition? If anything the US should resurrect the neutron bomb. When the threat becomes unmanageable zap them and nuclear winter for the rest of the planet is averted.

      • Aizino Smith

        Because Syria is a key ally of Iran.

        Without Syria, Hezbollah withers on the vine and Iran is isolated (wings clipped).

        Without a Syrian land bridge Iranian logistical support is more problematic and might be insignificant. Hezbollah might succumb to the Sunnis.

        Iraq is an ally of Iran but since it is a multi-ethnic and political divided country, it is not much help to ran except as 1 vote in the UN and the Arab league. Iran and Iraq together are nothing that Turkey and Saudi Arabia cannot handle.

        But put Lebanon, Syria, Iran & Iraq together backed by Russia and we have a problem.

        We would have less of a problem if a j-a would let us drill and would learn that investment into alternate energy includes fusion and fission besides solar and wind, but we have to live with the j-a and his know nothing supporters.

        • Biff Henderson

          You can’t project power with your hands tied behind your back. I doesn’t matter who’s running the show, playing a cat and mouse game with a Devil you depend on for energy makes you weak. Transitioning to alternate energy, and I don’t mean corn based, is a long row to hoe. One step that would cushion that transition is to approve the Keystone pipeline. I’d prefer putting currency in the hands of a country favorable to democratic principles.

          • Aizino Smith

            I am in favor of Keystone and more fracking. I also think that solar is mature enough to go on its’ own. I have seen to many crony contracts. People need to go to jail.

      • Aizino Smith

        Lets put it this way. if we take out Syria and had momentum, the Ayatollahs would be very concerned.

        If we take out Syria and have our hands full, the ayatollahs will take it in stride and just work hard.

        If we sit on our hands looking weak, they will be emboldened

        When Iran goes nuclear, just know that Saudi Arabia is going nuclear and there is nothing that Obama can do about it.

        Is he going to invade Saudi Arabia? That would be an s-storm.
        but as low as he bows to the King of Arabia, he just might want them to have the bomb and to heck with non-proliferation. So much for that leftists ideal.

        • Biff Henderson

          It’s always been about Iran. Why swat the bee when you can take out the hive. All the concerns you mentioned are addressed disabling Iran’s nuclear capability.

          • Aizino Smith

            Agreed, Iran Is a lynch pin. and to be successful and to use economy of force that is where we should go.

            But the Syrians and Hezbollah are dangerous with or without Iran. Their threat might be diminished or not grow as fast without Iran, but they will not sit on their hands.

            At the end of Babylon 5 when the shadow left, their subject races picked up where they had left off and played
            havoc.

            Iran will not fold just because we take out the nuke program. Iran could do a lot damage if they activated cells in the U.S. There are many types of warfare. Only relying on nukes or only considering nukes is like resting on one’s laurels.

            Iran could be like Russia. they could do more damage to us with “influence operations” than with nukes.

          • Biff Henderson

            Targeting power plants, refineries and fuel storage in Syria brings them in line with their 7th century mindset. Let the MoBros soften them up first. Hezbollah goes down with them. The cells that exist will act at some point anyway so that argument is mute. Delaying the inevitable gains you what here and now? A neutron strike would eliminate the men and the drug cash crop that finances Hezbollah. No boots on the ground. America can’t afford to be magnanimous in the way She fights anymore.

          • Muhammad

            Wrong..

          • Biff Henderson

            You pack a wallop without mincing words, I’m stunned by your eloquence, Bravo.

          • Hass

            Can you add anything intelligent to say?

          • Muhammad

            disagree

        • Muhammad

          Why?

  • Aizino Smith

    I read this article and I think we should depose Assad.

    Game-Changer: Signs of the al-Qaeda-Assad Alliance
    http://pjmedia.com/blog/game-changer-signs-of-the-al-qaeda-assad-alliance/

    I thought we should have gone in 2 or 3 years ago when we left Iraq and stationed troops in Jordan.

    Since then I thought Al Qaeda was too strong and would take over if we toppled Assad. Or the Muslims Brotherhood would take over. One thing that the Regime, McCain and Graham have not done well is to show that Al-Nusrah or the MB would not take over. But they have a bad track record and it is not improving.

    However much I think we should go in, I cannot see how it would succeed with so many unrepentant Leftists running around gleefully throwing monkey wrenches into everything.

  • chess

    obama has NEVER been incompetent. It is all going as planned.

  • Muhammad

    We love Obama. Muslim love him…

    • Biff Henderson

      All I see is one Muslim declaring his love for a pantywaist.

  • Solo712

    Contrary to the prevailing opinion, the US has had a policy in the Middle East under Obama. It was built by the Hillary Clinton State Department and it threw its support behind the Muslim Brotherhood. Hillary’s (and Huma Abedin’s) hour came perhaps earlier than planned, when the “Arab spring” spread to Egypt from Tunisia and Libya. The US has been fully on board with MBs Egypt’s program and pretended not to notice that the movement was neither democratic nor secularist. Emboldened by events Egypt, the Syrian branch of the Brotherhood started to undermine Assad in Syria, to which Assad’s regime responded with predictable brutality. Within two months, a full-scale armed rebellion was formed, which was from the start politically dominated by essentially the same ideology that made its own uses of the popular anti-Mubarak movement. So, let’s stop pretending that the US policy in Syria is totally incomprehensible (as it is allying itself with al-Qaeda). John Kerry’s misleading the public about “secularist” and “democratic” Syrian opposition are not accidental bungling. Elizabeth O’Bagy appears as much an agent of Muslim Brotherhood as was Huma Abedin.

    http://dailycaller.com/2013/09/11/expert-who-traveled-with-syrian-rebels-so-called-moderates-are-muslim-brotherhood-style-islamists/